Activists, doctors split on HIV bill
Bill intended to enhance patient medical privacy
A proposal to change how people give consent for HIV tests has divided AIDS advocacy groups in Massachusetts and upset major medical organizations, stymieing legislators trying to bring the state into compliance with federal recommendations aimed at promoting more testing.
At issue is a bill that would drop Massachusetts’ requirement for specific written patient consent before a doctor tests for the AIDS virus — something 48 other states have done — and replace that with verbal consent. The measure would also require the physician note in the medical record the patient’s decision.
The bill was crafted to bring Massachusetts in line with federal health officials’ 2006 recommendation that states update their laws to make HIV testing more routine and widespread. They suggested that general consent for medical care, which is the permission required for tests such as cholesterol screenings, should be considered sufficient for HIV testing.
Only Massachusetts and Nebraska still require specific written consent for HIV testing, according to the National HIV/AIDS Clinicians’ Consultation Center at the University of California, San Francisco.
Legislators this year, to accommodate concerns of some AIDS groups and others, added a provision to the bill to enhance patient privacy protections. It would prohibit health care providers from disclosing a patient’s HIV-related medical information to outside health care providers without each time obtaining the patient’s written informed consent.
That change is intended to ease patient concerns about test results being leaked. The language went too far, however, for other organizations, which originally supported the bill but now oppose it. A coalition of health care groups blasted that proposal last week, saying it would greatly hinder HIV patients’ ability to get timely medical attention.
The coalition, which includes the Massachusetts Medical Society, the Massachusetts Hospital Association, and Fenway Health, which specializes in AIDS care, urged lawmakers and top health officials in the Patrick administration to block the legislation.
“I am not at all giving up, but I think we need to put all the same people in the same room and get them to talk to each other,” said Senator Patricia Jehlen, a Somerville Democrat who filed this year’s legislation. The bill has had a public hearing, been approved by two legislative committees, and is awaiting a vote in the Senate.